Team Building Exercises – Communication

Six Ways to Improve Communication Skills

Team Building Exercises – Communication - Six Ways to Improve Communication Skills

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"Build a bridge" is just one exercise you can use to get communication flowing.

How well do your team members communicate with one another?

Poor communication lies at the root of many problems. It can lead to mistakes, quality problems, conflict, missed deadlines, and lost opportunities. That's why it can often pay to help your people to develop their communication skills.

One way of doing this is to use appropriate team building activities. Not only can these boost people's communication skills, but they can also help them to build trust and develop good relationships with one another.

In this article, we'll look at six team building exercises that can help your people to communicate better. You can use them to get a new group off to a great start, or with an existing team to resolve issues that might be holding it back.

Exercises to Develop Communication Skills

Your team communicates in many different ways: face-to-face, by video conference, by instant message, and by email. But does it do so effectively?

Use the exercises below to improve essential communication skills like listening, empathy and verbalization. Some of these will also strengthen team members' problem solving, creative thinking and leadership skills.

Exercise 1: Card Pieces

In this activity, team members trade pieces of playing cards to put together complete cards.

Uses

This exercise is useful for showing team members others' perspectives. It builds communication and negotiation skills, and helps people to develop empathy.

People and Materials

  • Enough people for at least three teams of two.
  • Playing cards – use between four and six for each person.
  • A private room.

Time

  • 15 minutes.

Instructions

  1. Cut each playing card into half diagonally, then in half diagonally again, so you have four triangular pieces for each card.
  2. Mix all the pieces together and put equal numbers of cards into as many envelopes as you have teams.
  3. Divide people up into teams of three or four. You need at least three teams. If you're short of people, teams of two will work just as well.
  4. Give each team an envelope of playing card pieces.
  5. Each team has three minutes to sort its pieces, determine which ones it needs to make complete cards, and develop a bargaining strategy.
  6. After three minutes, allow the teams to start bartering for pieces. People can barter on their own or collectively with their team. Give the teams eight minutes to barter.
  7. When the time is up, count each team's completed cards. Whichever team has the most cards wins the round.

Advice for the Facilitator

After the activity, ask your team members to think about the strategies they used. Discuss these questions:

  • Which negotiation strategies worked? Which didn't?
  • What could they have done better?
  • What other skills, such as active listening or empathy, did they need to use?

Exercise 2: Make a Team With…

In this activity, team members must act quickly to form small teams based on instructions that you shout out.

Uses

This activity strengthens communication skills. It also teaches team members how to think on their feet.

People and Materials

  • Any number of team members.
  • A private room.

Time

  • 15 minutes.

Instructions

  1. Explain to participants that they will have to form a team based on the instructions that you shout out. For example, some instructions could include "Get into a team with people who have the same number of children as you" or "Get into a team with people who like similar types of music to you."
  2. Shout out instructions. People can shout out or sit down to signal that their team is "complete." Encourage people to work as quickly as possible. Repeat the exercise as many times as you want.

Advice for the Facilitator

Talk with your team about how this activity encouraged them to communicate. How could they learn to open up and communicate more effectively in work situations in the future?

Exercise 3: The Elephant List

This exercise is for teams that are committed to open and honest conversations, even when the subject is a difficult one.

Uses:

Not all exercises are light-hearted or playful. Sometimes, it may be necessary to shine a light on subjects that your team has been avoiding, or that it doesn't know how to broach. This activity can help teams to have a candid conversation about the proverbial "elephant in the room," such as a key manager's impending retirement, or a serious flaw in a process or decision.

Tip:

This exercise requires a very experienced facilitator. Your team members may be reluctant to discuss contentious issues in a group, or they may be fearful of raising subjects that could be seen as "off limits" to them. The facilitator will need to reassure participants that they can do so in a safe, trusting environment.

People and Materials:

  • Any number of team members but, if there are more than six or seven people taking part, you may have to have a quick vote to decide which "elephants" to address, and in which order.
  • Sticky notes or small sheets of paper with an elephant image, which you can call "elephant sheets" (you can get creative here!).
  • Three flip charts in a wide circle, or in a U-shape.

Time:

  • You can set your own time limit for discussions.

Instructions:

  1. Assemble your team and explain the objectives of the exercise, which are: to create an environment of open communication, to identify any obstacles or problems that the team faces, and to help the team move forward on projects or initiatives while openly discussing potential "elephants in the room."
  2. Explain that you will address each elephant using the principles of Control-Influence-Accept (CIA). This means deciding whether they are issues that the participants have Control over, that they can Influence, or that they need to Accept.
  3. Hand out the sticky notes or elephant sheets, and give your team members five minutes to write down one elephant. They should also write whether their elephant is C, I or A. Putting their names on the sheet or sticky note is optional.
  4. Collect the elephants, read them aloud one by one, then record them on the relevant flip charts (marked C, I or A).
  5. As mentioned above, if you have a large number of elephants or are limited by time, you may need to vote on which ones to address.
  6. Decide as a group whether the A elephants really are issues that just have to be accepted, and agree on whether any of the C or I elephants are actually A elephants. Then, let the A-list elephants go. Basically, just accept them.
  7. Tackle C and I elephants in open conversations, and try to come up with solutions or action items. Look at each elephant through the "4 Ws." Why are we doing this, or why is this happening? What are we doing about it? Who can resolve this issue? When can we resolve this?

Advice for the Facilitator

Define specific actions that your whole team agrees with and create an action plan to carry them out. Then, continue to coach and support your team when addressing other elephants in the future.

The Elephant List is reproduced with permission from Gabriele Bankers, an organization development specialist from Denver, U.S.

Exercise 4: Just Listen

This is an activity that encourages participants to communicate how they feel about a subject. People get into pairs and one member talks about his or her opinions. His partner listens without speaking, and then, without rebuttal, recaps on what has been said.

Uses

This activity strengthens your team members' listening skills. Listening is an incredibly important part of good communication, and it's a skill that people often ignore in team activities. This activity also shows them how to listen with an open mind.

People and Materials

  • An even number of team members, ideally.
  • Eight index cards for each team of two. Each card should list one topic. The topics should be interesting, but not too controversial. You don't want the listeners disliking the speakers just because they disagree with their viewpoint.
  • A private room.

Time

  • 25-30 minutes.

Instructions

  1. Have your team members sit down in pairs.
  2. Give each pair eight index cards.
  3. One partner will blindly choose a card and then speak for three minutes on how she feels about the topic. As she talks, the other person cannot speak – his goal is to listen.
  4. After three minutes, the listener has one minute to recap on what his partner has said. He cannot debate, agree or disagree – only summarize.
  5. Next, the roles switch, and the process starts again.

Advice for the Facilitator

Talk with your team members about how they felt about this exercise. Discuss these questions:

  • How did speakers feel about their partners' ability to listen with an open mind? Did their partners' body language communicate how they felt about what was being said?
  • How did listeners feel about not being able to speak about their own views on the topic? How well were they able to keep an open mind? How well did they listen?
  • How well did the listening partners summarize the speakers' opinions? Did they get better as the exercise progressed?
  • How can they use the lessons from this exercise at work?

Exercise 5: The Blindfold Game*

In this activity, blindfolded participants must rely on their partners to navigate an "assault course" successfully.

Uses

This helps to improve communication and listening skills, and to build trust between partners.

People and Materials

  • Any size group works well in this exercise.
  • Enough blindfolds for half of the participants.
  • A large, private room.
  • Furniture and other items that you can use as obstacles.

Time

  • Around 15-20 minutes.

Instructions

  1. Scatter furniture and objects around the room before the activity begins. Your course should be challenging, but still safe to navigate around.
  2. Put team members into pairs and ask them to stand at one end of the room.
  3. One person from each pair should put on the blindfold.
  4. The sighted people must guide their partners across the room, and give instructions to help them to avoid the obstacles.
  5. When each team reaches the other side of the room, partners should switch roles and then repeat the exercise.

Advice for the Facilitator

Talk with your group after the exercise. Discuss these questions:

  • How did participants have to communicate differently to guide their partners?
  • How did their listening skills change and adapt when they were blindfolded?

You might find it helpful for team members to take our self tests, "How Good Are Your Listening Skills?" and "How Good Are Your Communication Skills?" These will help them to understand how well they listen and communicate, and identify how they can improve.

Original source unknown. Please contact editorial@mindtools.com if you know what the source is.

Exercise 6: Build a Bridge

In this activity, two teams must work together to build a bridge using materials that you supply. They each build half of the bridge and then "connect" the two pieces to make a complete one, made up of two similar designs.

The activity is challenging because the room is divided: no team is able to see how the other constructs its bridge. Teams have to communicate verbally through a sheet or tarpaulin that divides the room, as they work.

Uses

The Build a Bridge activity strengthens communication skills because each team has to discuss ideas and brainstorm ways to use their materials to build half a bridge. In addition, this activity improves group problem solving and creative thinking. You can also use it to develop people's leadership skills if you decide to elect a team leader for each group, or if people naturally take the lead.

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People and Materials

  • Enough people for at least two teams of three. If you have a larger group, you can create several teams – just make sure that you have an even number and enough space and tarpaulin to give each team a secluded area to work in.
  • Materials for bridge building. This could include toy bricks, pieces of wood, tape, glue, pipes, canvas, paper, or straws.
  • Notepads and pencils for drawing.
  • Tape measures.
  • Tarpaulins or sheets to section off the room, giving each team a private area to build its bridge in.

Time

  • 45 minutes to one hour.

Instructions

  1. Before participants arrive, arrange the tarpaulins or sheets throughout the room so that teams won't be able to see one another's work.
  2. Divide participants into two (or four or six) teams. Team size doesn't matter; however, teams of four or fewer might be most effective.
  3. Give each group a bag of materials. Each bag should contain the same number and type of materials. Each team should also get a notepad and pencils, and a tape measure.
  4. Give everyone 10 minutes to draw their ideas. Remind teams to communicate with their "partner group" on the other side of the tarpaulin to make sure that they come up with similar designs. Remember, each half of the bridge must be able to "join" at the end of the building phase.
  5. Each team then gets up to 40 minutes to construct its half of the bridge. While the teams build, walk around to ensure that each team communicates with the other through the tarpaulin.
  6. When time is up, remove the tarpaulin to see how close each group came to matching their partner team's bridge.

Advice for the Facilitator

When you finish the activity, use the questions below to start a discussion:

  • What was most challenging about this activity?
  • Who was responsible for communicating instructions between teams? If a number of people issued instructions through the tarpaulin, would it have been easier to appoint just one person on each team to do this job?
  • Were there any miscommunications? If so, what happened?
  • If a team appointed a leader, how well did this person lead the group? What were the leader's strengths and weaknesses?

Key Points

No matter how well your team communicates, using group activities to strengthen existing skills can be an enjoyable way of developing good working relationships. They're especially useful for building relationships and improving communication in new teams, and for solving communication issues within existing teams.

Some team activities that focus on communication can also help people to develop problem solving, creativity and leadership skills.

Apply This to Your Life

Would your team members benefit from improving their communication skills?

If so, think about whether you could work through any of these exercises at your next team meeting or team building event.

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Comments (19)
  • Over a month ago BillT wrote
    Hi mistyh78616,

    Thank you for the positive feedback. Here is a link to many effective Team Building Exercises https://www.mindtools.com/community/Search.php?search_term=team+building. I hope you find them useful.
  • Over a month ago mistyh78616 wrote
    I am always looking for quick fast but effective team building activities to incorporate with my teams! Iwould love to see more examples of 5-10 minute builders for necessary skills in call center environment.
  • Over a month ago Michele wrote
    Hello dnkwasibwe,

    The team-building exercises described here are ones that are commonly used in organizations. If you browse YouTube, you are likely to find videos available that show the team-building exercises in action.

    We appreciate hearing your feedback on this resource.

    Michele
    Mind Tools Team
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